Jason Baird, Mr. Crusader Knight of 1997, used to wear the sought-after crown. Representing Burt Hall, he entertained students with a two-minute video that was voted students’ and judges’ choice for favorite video his sophomore year in college.
Now Baird stands on stage for a different crowd. He is a singer and bass player for Austin’s Bridge, an up-and-coming band known for its bluegrass, country feel. According to Christianity Today, their sound can be likened to that of Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts and 33Miles.
“Hands down, they’re the best new ‘guy group’ in faith-based country-pop,” Christianity Today’s music review said.
Baird met Justin Rivers, the lead singer and guitarist, in Austin, Texas. They wanted to use music to “bridge the gap between a sinful man and a holy God,” Baird said.
The group has been together since 2006 and recently enjoyed the spotlight for receiving the 2008 Dove Award for Bluegrass Recorded Song of the Year, “He’s in Control.” They were nominationed for three awards.
Rivers said, “We were shocked because they’re so many people who don’t know who we (are).”
The threesome, made of worship pastors Rivers, Baird and Toby Hitchcock, have been involved in music in some form since childhood.
“I knew music was the only thing I was going to do,” Rivers said. “I tried to play football in high school, and I tried to pursue other avenues of interest, but none that I liked as well as music. It just consumed me.”
Hitchcock’s parents were musicians, so he grew up travelling.
“I remember being on the road and being like 4 years old and singing all their songs in the back seat,” Hitchcock said.
For Baird, ministry has been his resounding calling. He was a youth pastor before he became a music minister.
“In my worship leading area, I was like ‘This is fun, but I don’t want to stand up and conduct music.’ I want to work with a band,” Baird said. “So I started working with bands. That’s where my passion for music developed.”
Each member has traveled a long road to get to the place where he is now. Rivers said he got a kid guitar for Christmas when he was 3 years old. He and the six-stringed instrument were inseparable.
“I don’t really recall this,” Rivers said, “but (my mom) said that I would carry it around … day and night, like it was my security blanket.”
As a child, he entertained church members nearly every Sunday, trying to play along during worship.
Rivers said, “People would be on stage singing, and I would be the little kid on fourth row strumming on an open guitar, and they’d be like ‘shut up.’”
While out on tour, Austin’s Bridge seeks to stay connected in their personal relationship with Christ. It’s not always easy.
Baird said, “It’s vital for me to have a daily time with God, whether that’s sitting down and reading my Bible or taking time in the morning before everything gets real busy to just pray.”
The band also keeps in touch with a few pastors who call them and pray for them regularly.
When it comes to songwriting, the band relies on personal songs with the direction of other songwriters in Nashville, Tenn.
“I don’t think I’m one of those writers … who can just turn the switch on,” Rivers said. “I have to be inspired, or someone else comes to me with an idea (that) triggers something in my brain, and I’m like ‘Great, let’s write on it.’”
Ex-Crusader Baird recognizes the positive effect of UMHB in his life.
He said of his two years at the university, “The environment is honestly what I enjoyed the most.”
Austin’s Bridge hopes to release its second album in the spring.
As the group appreciates their Christian companionship, they will continue to enter doors God opens for music.
“It’s really cool to be on the road with these guys and just feel like you have brothers,” Hitchcock said. “We look out for each other.”